Carter: ISIS raid a ‘significant blow’ to terror group
By Karl de Vries
WASHINGTON (CNN) — The U.S. operation that killed a key ISIS commander on Saturday was a “significant blow” to the terror group, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said.
The ISIS commander, Abu Sayyaf, was killed after he fought capture in the raid at al-Omar in eastern Syria, Carter said in a statement. His wife, an Iraqi named Umm Sayyaf, was caught and is being held in Iraq.
Carter said he had ordered the raid against the terror group, also known as ISIL, at the direction of President Barack Obama. All the U.S. troops involved returned safely.
“Abu Sayyaf was involved in ISIL’s military operations and helped direct the terrorist organization’s illicit oil, gas and financial operations as well,” Carter said in the statement. “The operation represents another significant blow to ISIL, and it is a reminder that the United States will never waver in denying safe haven to terrorists who threaten our citizens, and those of our friends and allies.”
National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said the President’s national security team unanimously supported the operation, and a White House official told CNN that Obama was regularly briefed while it was ongoing. The leadership of the House Intelligence Committee was briefed before the raid on Friday, a congressional source told CNN, and Meehan said congressional leadership was notified and that there will be additional briefings next week.
She added that the mission was conducted with the “full consent” of Iraqi authorities and was consistent with domestic and international law, though the U.S. did not coordinate with or notify the Syrian regime.
Meehan said U.S. authorities were working to determine the next step in the detainment of Umm Sayyaf, who is believed to be a member of ISIS and “played an important role” in the terror group’s activities.
House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement that while he was “encouraged” by the raid’s success, he remains “gravely concerned” by ISIS’s gains in Ramadi and pushed for legislation that boosts assistance to Iraqi security forces battling the terror group.
“The United States and our coalition partners must continue to do everything in their power to defeat and destroy these savage terrorists,” Boehner said.
California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, added that ISIS “has proven adept at replacing its commanders and we will need to keep up the pressure on its leadership and financing.”
Other members of Congress weighed in on the mission on Saturday:
Abu Sayyaf was a Tunisian citizen, a senior administration official said.
A U.S. official with direct knowledge of the intelligence and the ground operation described him as “CFO of all of ISIS with expertise in oil and gas” who had an increasing role in operations, planning and communications.
“We now have reams of data on how ISIS operates, communicates and earns its money,” the official told CNN, referring to some of the communications elements, such as computers, seized in the raid.
Preliminary information indicates that the U.S.-led coalition airdropped forces following the bombardment. The ground operation was led by the Army’s Delta Force, sources familiar with the mission told CNN, adding that more than 100 personnel from various branches, including those flying the crew, were involved in the mission.
A senior administration official told CNN the purpose of the raid was to capture the target, but he engaged U.S. forces so he was killed. While the purpose was to capture, the forces had the option to kill if they deemed it necessary, the official said.
CNN’s Barbara Starr, Laura Smith-Spark, Jamie Crawford, Jim Acosta, Sunlen Serfaty, Hamdi Alkhshali, Jason Hanna, Nick Paton Walsh and Daniella Diaz contributed to this report.